Association dues come up for renewal every winter. Few expenses pave the way toward professionalism more than association dues, but how many associations can you realistically participate in and support?

As you reevaluate your association budget this winter, ask yourself these few questions:

1.) Is the association's training and certification program recognized by government officials and customers in your area?

2.) Does the association promote the value of certification to government officials and customers in your state?

3.) Does the association in your area each year provide training and testing? If not, do correspondence courses help you train your own staff?

4.) Does the association have a local chapter so you can attend regular meetings and network?

5.) Do your employees seek the recognition provided by the association's certification program?

6.) Do your local suppliers endorse the association?

7.) Do you promote association membership in your advertising? If so, does it help in marketing your services?

8.) Do you attend the association's trade show every year or two?

9.) Are the association's publications valuable to you business?

10.) Do you receive important discounts by belonging to the association?

11.) Does the association provide a dues credit for belonging to other industry-related associations? For example, state and local associations.

12.) If the association represents just one service or product you offer, are your dues based on the sales of your entire operation?

13.) Does the association strive to represent businesses of all sizes?

If you said yes to ten or more of the above questions, send that association your dues check for 1998 and maintain or increase your level of participation. Involve your employees and become part of the association support network. Ultimately, you control the benefits you gain from your dues by your level of participation.

If you said yes to between seven and nine of the questions, you should call and speak to someone at the association regarding your concerns. Judge how well your needs are addressed by the individual representing the association. Strong programs are seriously devalued if the association lacks the personnel to carry them out. Consider getting involved to improve the association and their programs. Your new blood might be exactly what that association needs.

Less than seven yes answers tells you that your money could be spent more wisely in another way. Perhaps you can convince a different association to offer training in the particular field. Associations work cooperatively in some instances, especially state with national associations. You might even considering organizing with peers in your area to develop adequate training and professional programs.

By making a choice on the associations you support, you will be further strengthening productive organizations. Just as in business, consolidation can sometimes be the most appropriate answer for associations. You vote with your dues check and by your participation. Without those two things, no association will last very long.